John Osborne

John OsborneBorn on December 12, 1929, in London, John Osborne would eventually change the face of British theatre. His father, an advertising copywriter, died in 1941, leaving Osborne an insurance settlement which he used to finance a boarding school education at Belmont College in Devon. Still heartbroken, however, over his father's death, Osborne could not focus on his studies and left after striking the headmaster.

He returned to London and lived briefly with his mother, a barmaid. He became involved in the theatre when he took a job tutoring a touring company of young actors. Osborne went on to serve as actor-manager for a string of repertory companies and soon decided to try his hand at playwriting. When George Devine placed a notice in The Stage in 1956, Osborne decided to submit one of his plays, Look Back in Anger. Not only was his play produced, but it is considered by many critics to be the turning point in postwar British theatre. Osborne's protagonist, Jimmy Porter, captured the angry and rebellious nature of the postwar generation, a dispossessed lot who were clearly unhappy with things as they were in the decades following World War II. Jimmy Porter came to represent an entire generation of "angry young men."

In his next play, The Entertainers (1957), Osborne continued to examine the state of the country, this time using three generations of a family of entertainers to symbolize the decline of England after the war. Laurence Olivier played Archie Rice, a struggling comedian, and the role resulted in one of his most famous performances. An experimental piece, The Entertainer alternated realistic scenes with Vaudeville performances, and most critics agreed that it was an appropriate follow-up to the wild success of Look Back in Anger. After this, however, the quality of Osborne's output became erratic. Although he produced a number of hits including Luthor (1961), a play about the leader of the Reformation, and Inadmissible Evidence (1965), the study of a frustrated solicitor at a law firm, he also produced a string of unimportant works. Critics began to accuse him of not fulfilling his early potential, and audiences no longer seemed effected by Osborne's rage. Recognizing this, Osborne described himself in his last play as "a churling, grating note, a spokesman for no one but myself, with deadening effect, cruelly abusive, unable to be coherent about my despair."

Osborne died as a result of complications from Diabetes on December 24, 1994, in Shropshire, England. He left behind a large body of works for the stage as well as several autobiographical works. Several of his plays were also adapted for film including Look Back in Anger and The Entertainer. In 1963, Osborne won an Academy Award for his screenplay for Tom Jones.

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Osborne's Plays  |  Other Works  |  Osborne's Films


Osborne's Plays

Other Works

Osborne's Films

Related Sites

British Theatre Index

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